This is a circular hike in Adulam Park that also explores interesting archeological remains in Midras, a village from the Second Temple Period, including a hide-out cave likely used during the Bar Kochba Revolt. This hike can also be shortened to just the ruins of Midras.
The ancient name of this village was probably Drossias, and it was assigned the name Midras based on its Arabic name Khirbet Drussia. The ancient village here was founded during Second Temple times in the Hellenistic period, although most of the ruins in Midras are from the Roman period. The Jewish village came to an end after the Bar Kochba Revolt when it was destroyed by the Romans. There may have been some later settlement by the Romans, and a Byzantine church indicates settlement in the Byzantine period.
Time: About 1½ hour for the walk and to admire the views.
Distance: 2¾ Km.
Type of walk: Circular
Difficulty: An easy hike that climbs up to the tel on a dirt road.
Directions and starting point: Put into Waze: "Tel Zafit" or “גן לאומי תל צפית.” This will take you to the parking lot at the bottom of the tel. The hike starts from here.
Public transport: There is no close public transport.
The columbarium at Midras
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Circular hike in Adulam Park:
Leave the parking lot by turning onto the black-marked trail sign-posted to Adulam Grove (in the direction away from Zifririm). This road passes typical Mediterranean woodland and scrub of the Shefelah.
At the first intersection, turn right onto the red trail. After a time, you will come to a fork in the road. Take the right fork and continue on the red-marked trail up the hill.
Close to the top of the hill, go around the grey metal gate. Soon you will come to a junction of the blue-marked trail on the right and the green-marked trail to your left. In actuality, you can take either of these trails, as they both lead to the parking lot; but we will do a section of the blue trail first and then return to the green trail. So, turn right onto the blue trail in the sign-posted direction of the “הפרמידה”.
The first site you will come on this part of the blue-marked trail is an elaborate Jewish burial cave which was in use from about the 1st century CE until the Bar Kochba Revolt.
This burial chamber would have been outside the main settlement. The burial chamber was closed by means of a rolling stone, which you can see close to the entrance. In front of the stone is a courtyard and behind it are two chambers. The inner chamber contains a sarcophagus, which is a stone coffin, and an ossuary which was used for secondary burial after the deceased had been placed on a burial shelf for a period and the body had decomposed. The bones were then gathered up and placed in this box and the burial shelf was reused. This method of burial was used until towards the end of the 2nd Temple period.
Continue on the blue-marked trail until you come to a footpath leading off to the left. Following this, you will very soon come to the ruins of another building with a large wall made of dressed stones (ashlars).
Potsherds and coins found in the building date it to the 2nd century CE after the Bar Kochba Revolt. It may have been a Roman pagan temple.
Continue on the blue trail until you come to the "pyramid" in the form of a pyramid-shaped pile of hewn stones .
This pyramid was built over a second-Temple burial cave similar to the one we have just visited. It may have been intended as a monument to someone buried in the cave, or perhaps to all the people buried in the caves below. Each side of the pyramid’s base is about 10 meters long, and it is 3.5 meters tall, although it originally reached a height of about 5 meters. Monuments of this type were common in the land of Israel during the Hellenistic period, and may have been based on Egyptian burial customs. This is the most impressive one found. These monuments were known by the title “nefesh,” refering to the soul of the departed. The rabbis tolerated the custom, but they were not overly fond of it. They said: “One should not build nefesh monuments for righteous people – their words [of Torah] are their [true] memorial” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 2:5)
Return to the junction of the blue and green trails, and go down the green-marked trail. You are now heading towards the ruins of the village.
The first place of interest is a dug out bell-shaped cave used as a columbarium, for raising doves.
The limestone here is soft and easy to quarry through, but it is covered by a hard layer of nari, which is a type of hard limestone. A small hole was therefore made in the nari, and once the soft layer was reached, this was widened into a bell-shaped cave. This could be used for different functions. This one was used for a columbarium, and hundreds of these have been found in the Shefela. The doves were used for food, for their dung as manure, and for ritual purposes.
You will see next a water cistern enclosed by a metal barrier. Surface water does not penetrate the soft rock here and during the rainy season water was led by channels to deep cisterns. These held the drinking water for the community since there is no nearby natural spring
At the fork, turn left to the remains of a Byzantine church from the 5 to 6th centuries and may have been related to the presumed tomb of Zechariah the Prophet. When it was first revealed, pillars were found and a very impressive mosaic floor. However, the floor was destroyed by vandals and was subsequently covered over. Continue down this footpath, which soon meets up with the continuation of the green trail.
Continue down the hill until you come to a 3-way junction. A signpost will direct you to the right to the “hideout system” on the blue-marked trail. Many people will enjoy crawling through this cave system that consists of chambers connected by crawling spaces. You will need a flashlight. Follow the reflective arrows and you will emerge after 10 to 20 minutes from an exit chamber.
Hundreds of tunnel systems of this type have been located in this part of the country as they were developed as part of the preparations for the Bar Kochba revolt as hideaways and bases. The fact that many subterranean artificial caves already existed as basements, workshops, cisterns, columbaria and storerooms enabled these hidden mazes to be prepared fairly quickly by connecting existing structures. The original entrances to the caves were sealed or hidden and the connecting tunnels were intentionally dug in ways that made it difficult to crawl through. The crawler would emerge suddenly into an open room while having to climb up or down to reach the floor. Thus, even if Roman soldiers discovered them and attempted to raid the bases, the Jewish defenders would be able to ambush the Romans inside the tunnels.
Continue downhill on the blue trail to the parking lot.
Shortened hike to Midras sites only:
This circular route is a popular one for groups and is much shorter than the first hike:
From the parking lot, go up the hill on the blue-marked trail, stopping first at the "Hide out system".
Continue on the blue-marked trail, passing the pyramid , religious structure and burial cave until you come to the junction with the green trail.
Go down the green trail, passing the columbarium and Byzantine church . The green trail leads to the blue trail which leads you back to your car at the parking lot.
A hideout cave from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt.
Map of long Midras hike.
THE BAR KOCHBA REVOLT
Jewish life in Midras and nearby towns came to an end during the Bar Kochba revolt, as Rome was determined to wipe out Jewish life in Judea.
The dates of the Bar Kohba Revolt are usually stated as 132-135 CE, although these dates are not well documented and it may have begun a few years earlier.
Who was responsible for this revolt?
There is no doubt that the Jews initiated hostilities by carrying out guerilla attacks against Roman garrisons, but the revolt itself was the culmination of unfinished business for both Jews and Romans.
60-some years earlier the Great Revolt had failed, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Rome was now considered by the Jews as the epitome of evil. Considerable messianic fervor was building up in the country and many felt that the Jewish people should attempt to reestablish control over the country and rebuild the Temple.
The Romans also had scores to settle. The Great Revolt would have left bitter relations between Rome and the Jews. Many in Rome saw not only Judea as a threat, but Judaism itself. The Jews refused to accommodate themselves to the norms of a unified empire. There was also much conversion to Judaism by people in the Roman Empire who felt that the paganism of Rome was spiritually bankrupt, and this also was perceived as a threat by the Roman leadership.
The emperor Hadrian instituted laws against circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, public prayer and family purity. He also planned to build a new Roman city on the ruins of Jerusalem, to be called Aelia Capotolina, and to erect a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. Many Jews felt that these provocations could not be ignored.
The revolt had the approval of important Rabbis. Rabbi Akiva, the foremost Rabbi in Israel, supported the rebellion, and gave the military leader Bar Kosiba the new name "Bar Kochba", meaning “Son of a Star” and he promoted his leadership as the "King Messiah".
As distinct from the Great Revolt, the Jews prepared in advance for this conflict. Tunnels were dug in the towns and villages for hiding and over 350 of these have been discovered by archeologists in different locations in the country.
For the first two years, the revolt went fairly well and the Jews managed to establish autonomy within the country and capture Jerusalem. However, Rome could not afford the secession of any province from their empire. A top general was brought in, together with reinforcements, and the situation began to change. The Roman legions starved out the villages.
By the end of the revolt, Bar Kochba, his fighters and other fugitives were besieged in the city of Betar. The rebellion ended on Tisha Be’av (the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av) in 135 CE when Betar was destroyed and its inhabitants massacred.
The Bar Kochba revolt was devastating for the Jewish people and their country. According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews died during this revolt. Many more were sold into slavery or exiled. Fifty fortified towns and 985 villages were razed to the ground. Hadrian continued his campaign against the Jewish faith and leading Rabbis, including Rabbi Akiva, were put to death. Jerusalem was "plowed over" and the pagan city of Aelia Capotolina was built in its place. Jews would be banned from the city for about 500 years.
Jews were now a minority in their country, and they remained numerous only in the Galilee, Bet She'an Valley and the Golan Heights. Jews continued to live in the Holy Land over the next few centuries and produced the Mishna and Jerusalem Talmud, but with no Temple, no state, limited territory and hostile governments, the focus of Jewish life shifted to Babylon.